NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Amid a cacophony of horns, whistles and loud music, Bill de Blasio led the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade up Fifth Avenue on Sunday for his first time as mayor.
Hundreds of thousands of marchers and onlookers packed the avenue on a warm sunny day. The theme of this year’s parade was “One Nation, Many Voices.”
“This year is different because New York has a new mayor,” said 39-year-old Felix Martinez, who wore a Puerto Rican flag on his cowboy hat for his 16th time at the parade.
“This is a good, positive change, and it gives us Puerto Ricans some sort of hope,” Martinez said.
Another big change this year was the replacement of the board of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc. after the state attorney general found that a man who promoted the event and his company misappropriated $1 million to benefit themselves and used airline vouchers donated by parade sponsors, JetBlue and American.
On Sunday, Puerto Rican employees of JetBlue marched behind an airline banner.
“Change is not always a bad thing,” Daisy, of Ozone Park, Queens, told WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola. “Yeah, sure, if it’ll benefit the parade, make it better, why not?”
The parade stepped off late Sunday morning on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street, winding up at 79th Street.
As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, a man with a little dog on a tiny truck added a certain offbeat counterpoint to the big marching bands and blaring music that make up the basic drumbeat of the colossal celebration.
“The parade is important to me because of the heritage that we’re celebrating and then also the energy that everyone brings together is amazing,” one man told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“The parade is just about us coming together in unity — just celebrating our culture,” one woman added.
“Everyone has flags and earrings and bracelets and necklaces, and little kids running around listening to our Spanish music,” another woman said.
Of course, there was no shortage of dancing. Giants star wide receiver Victor Cruz was doing his trademark salsa dance, which he does as an end zone celebration, up Fifth Avenue.
“They’re extremely prideful,” Cruz, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico, told Schuck. “They love their heritage. They love their people. And they love everyone, and they’re extremely proud of what they represent.”
“I’m so excited,” Sandra Rivera, vice president of the New York chapter of the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, told Kosola. “This is, for me, national. It’s always been, and it should continue because we need the youth to know their culture and what we do, that we can come together and have an awesome time and see who’s working with the communities. And we’re always out there trying to be a part of something positive.”
De Blasio was joined by the two grand marshals, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, as well as Sen. Charles Schumer and other officials.
On the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, they greeted Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Of Puerto Rican culture, he said: “Catholicism is in Puerto Rican blood. It’s in their DNA. Hallelujah!”
Floats, bands and marching formations all had one element in common: the red, white and blue colors of the Puerto Rican flag.
Security was tight Sunday, with a heavy police presence and barricades stretching to Times Square that kept spectators strictly confined to sidewalks.
An accident near the parade left an officer in serious condition, when a taxi cab reportedly crashed into his motorcycle. The officer was reportedly stabilized and taken to Bellevue Hospital.
Parade organizers also marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Puerto Rican poet and activist Julia de Burgos.
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